Saturday, 29 October 2011

...Poured Across The Border...

Come and See1 is about blood in the margins, it is about the filth and the great horrible real of unknowable matter in your boots, in your veins and beneath your eyelids so you see it when you sleep. Opening with children ignoring the warnings of elders not to dig the story pushes itself through the dry scrub and into the sand to find the armatures of war, a buried rifle. Sand is the safest kind of matter, dry and easy is trickles off the skin. For the tactile defensive, sand is the first hurdle, a uniform sensation gently clinging to the moisture of fingertips and gone with with the violent flap of anxious revulsion. Sand is safe because it is not even dead, it was never alive forever the silica other of rocks and architecture.
Once Florya has his rifle and bound with it his fate as a partisan, matter ceases to be so safe and will hold on around him as mud and muck and scum. This is the living dirt, the boundary zone of decomposition and enriched growth. Particles freefall in perpetual becoming, forming and loosing bonds, losing life and finding a role within another.  

Come and See lives within this dirt, in a realism that unselfconsciously clings to hair or the corner of a mouth. Our characters find their own edges so shabbily defined as they merge with the landscape. Is this not the very mythos of the resistance? The hand of the land, the mob summoned up golem-like to throw its unprotected weight against the moral outrage of occupation.

The defining scene of Come and See is not the famous barn burning carnival but the tripping rush of denial as Florya leads Glasha to where he insists his massacred family will be hiding.

The prelude to this hysteria is where the two children enter Florya’s family home which is a prelude to the horrific roar of matter. Flies buzz around the cabin while Florya retrieves the still warm soup from the oven, for a second or two it seems that reality might be held back by the cultural relief of the meal. Through the symbolic envelopment by the family, matter might still be tamed. Then Glasha vomits and the real comes crashing in like an umber flood tide, the childhood stability is now irreparably corrupt as boy and girl run away from this break, out into the swamp. This next moment is that which defines the film, the mirror of the earlier sand scene Florya followed by Glasha wade out into water covered in tendrilous algae and biofilm. The rifle is pushed out ahead of the boy and is enveloped just as he is, held close and safe in a parental shroud of living material, the gun rendered useless2, and safe as they now encounter a level of the militia even closer to the land, a group of peasants and sub-Lumpenproletariat for whom the abstraction of politics has been pulled down into the praxis of survival3.

In 1983 Alan Moore is taking over the writing of DC’s Swamp Thing. Originally Swamp Thing belongs to the genre of the mortal turned ubermensch, and their struggle to act responsibly while attempting to regain their own humanity. In the writing of Moore this is changed, Swamp Thing is organic matter which has assimilated the memories of the dead mortal, there is no self to return to. Swamp Thing is organic material made self conscious, Rhizomatic, it realises a fractal structure, all parts contained within all parts forever turning inward. Swamp Thing is the realist dirt of Come and See, the land as Actant. The Soviet film pushes an ideology which pushes one layer deeper than a National Socialist volk spirit. Rather than centralising land-culture it centralises land-matter4, bare foot in the earth forming effigies from clay and spittle and the Hydroxyapatite of a human skull. The dead mortal’s memories shape Swamp Thing, as much as the political agreement we called the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic shapes the landscape of this film. Ultimately, this shaping is just a vehicle for articulation and interpretation and somewhere within it is the pure and filthy real. Central to Swamp Thing is the concept that the protagonist is not a being itself but rather the agency of all plant-life. Once again the hand of the land.

“In my heart/ there’s a place called swamp-land/ nine parts water/ one part sand5

The early 80s are the days of body horror, the pinnacle of animatronic hard-visual-effect-technology and the entering of HIV/AIDS into the collective Western Consciousness6.

There is an argument that all horror is to some extent fixated on the body and as such there is no such thing as a non-body horror. This would follow from the dual observations that our traditional lineage of horror narratives all feature a corruption of a body (whether ours, or the mirror of the Other) and that horror involves the threat or realisation of the transformation of a body through violence, moving from a familiar and operational thing, to something else all together.

However, this defining branch of popular cinema in the earlier years of the 80s is quite specific. John Carpenter moves from the recent supernatural revenge horror of Halloween and the Fog to the cellular eruption of The Thing. Similarly David Cronenberg shifts the role of the body to one of central reconfiguration and instability with Videodrome7. looking wider there is Re-Animator, The Howling, Wolfen, An American Werewolf in London and on and on. These are films which respond to a fear not of the Communist Other of without but the de-unification of the self (the self as a network which might be re-configured rather than a monad). However, what is also happening here is a change in society's view of the materiality of the body, as we obsess not simply on the threat of viral change, but on an increasingly drawn out look at the change itself. The camera lingers on the splatter of blood and the alteration of form (the monster change...) and this act becomes the distancing catharsis of self administered de-sensitization8.

What has happened is an abuse of matter, an abuse of dirt. Through pushing depiction of the unstable borders of the self into a bloody hyper-real (and despite how the rubber looks to our now jaded eyes, hyper-real is just what The Thing was) representation, a connection with the real of muck was dulled significantly. This is what makes Come and See so shocking in 19849 (in the 70s it would have been fine, nature has mostly been left to it's own existence in this decade, whether by disinterest or respect10) it is true dirt, even-handed and real.

In 1983 Big Black released Bulldozer, Swans released Filth and right at the start of 1984 Einstürzende Neubauten take pneumatic drills to the floor of the ICA to get to the tunnels beneath11.

In 1984 Black Flag release the record My War which is itself a slither between two attitudes to matter and the physical. Side A is the dumb hand-me-down punk of America pushing 1977 London back through rock and roll, side B is something that slows down the moment into 3 6minute plus songs of the lingering touch of distortion. A perfect synthesis of early Sabbath and Funhouse the last half of My War revels in the moment by moment of sound in stark contrast to conservative structures of the tracks which precede it. The guitars have been atonal all along but with the first of the three tracks, Nothing Left Inside, Greg Ginn's playing is so loose as to be rootless, just a huge collapse spilling out over a spasmodic and exhausted12 ruin of the first 4 notes of Peter Gunn played for what feels like forever on three legs.

1984 also sees the airing of Threads on the BBC then in 1985 Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy is published.

Like a revisionist return-to-nature both Threads and Blood Meridian offer a doom triumph of matter over ideology. That messy algorithm of rot and growth, that fuzziness at the border of self might cease to just be something on the surface, might infect and get inside, and this is what it would like in that world a handful of years later, no common language and no absolutes at all. That's really the fear of the Easton-Ellis-Eighties, for all the language of utter self control, of dominance of everything through the left right of Will and Capital everyone knows that increasing the grip only provokes a rupture somewhere, something has got to burst out.

However, it that implies some sort of general self-awareness, 1984 is also the year Red Dawn came out. Happy Halloween.

1 I wrote this last month “I've had a sequential dream over the past week where I have been a reluctant member of a partisan militia traipsing through unlit farmland in the manner of the film Come and See, led by the tragically flawed and often depressed (at all times sitting in the pose depicted on the cover DMR's second album) Captain Kevin Rowland. I brought him round to my house at one point in an effort to cheer him up, possibly by cooking him dinner. I then realise to my horror that not only is my copy of Too-Rye-Ay visible but the record itself is on the turntable and something has initiated the automatic start. There is a click as the red light comes on, the arm lifts, swings out over the disk, I drop the piece of salami I'm holding, Kevin looks up just as the needle drops.... and then I wake up.”

2 A realisation of the hippie symbolism, a flower jammed down the barrel. 

3 “Curiously, while Marx thought the final stage of history would amount to a sort of return to humanity's initial state ('primitive communism'), Marx and his successors never supposed that our own era's 'primitive communists' had any place in the transformations about to take place. You can't be an agent of history, the presumption went, if your form of life places you outside of history altogether.” J E H Smith

4 Matter is beyond corruption, it is impossible for a politic to insert itself between a subject and the pure experience of this terrible entity. “Base matter is external and foreign to ideal human aspirations, and it refuses to allow itself to be reduced to the great ontological machines resulting from these aspirations… For it is a question above all of not submitting oneself, and with oneself one’s reason, to whatever is more elevated, to whatever can give a borrowed authority to the being that I am, and to the reason that arms this being. This being and its reason can in fact only submit to what is lower, to what can never serve in any case to ape a given authority” Bataille, George Base Materialism and Gnosticism in George Bataille Visions of Excess Selected Writings 1927 - 1939 University of Minnesota: Minneapolis 1985.

5 Swampland by The Scientists, released as a double A side by Au Go Go in 1982

6 The actual moment of AIDS entering general understanding is attributed to many events, but most relevant to our discussion here is the release of David Lynch’s Dune in 1984 with its disease ridden homosexual Sadean Baron Vladimir Harkonnen personifying the spectre of a collective terror and ignorance made flesh. It is also worth mentioning Dune's Soviet-Afghan War subtext and it's wicked case of TE Lawrence syndrome, which exoticises and objectifying the Other while living out its colonial fantasy of leadership.

7 Cronenberg obsessed on the fuzzy edges of the bodily self from the beginning, perhaps most notably with the vampire-vagina-armpit vehicle Rabid in 1977. However, as with Carpenter these earlier films followed the codes of the slasher genre, with its need for a monstrous antagonist to be escaped. Videodrome, and to a lesser extent The Thing (hamstrung slightly by the conformity of the 1950s source material) display a more Existential quality of examining the nature of the bodily self and the limits of it’s materiality against he limits of its conciousness.

8 Another branch of this enquiry should here look to the sister of the splatter film, the early 80s heavy metal album, specifically the rise of Grindcore and to a lesser extent Thrash and Death Metal. Again, a mass of cathartic abuse against matter by making all anxiety familiar and ineffectual. This will finally find language in Napalm Death's mantra from 1989 "You suffer, but why?"

Shocking in the West obviously. Another branch of enquiry would here look to the more pronounced respect of matter in post-war to pre-80s soviet cinema, compared to to the grittier end of 70s Hollywood  and how this managed to survive much later into the decade. 

10 Hackman eats boiled eggs, DeNiro mashes bread into a bowl of milk and 70s Nicholson gesticulates with his mouth like he is forever talking around some dry rye toast. It was a decade which defined tough cinema by the way it played with its dinner.

11 Three bands that through abrasive sonic texture, volume and the physicality of the  means of producing (even amplified) sound attempting to re-connect something lost in the performance that might only be done so through confrontation. Unfortunately the drama (frequently in the lyrics, always in the clothes) often pulled the whole thing back into spectacle time and time again. Incidentally, the most physically engaged records I can think of are probably Free Your Mind... and Your Ass Will Follow by Funkadelic and There's a Riot Goin' On by Sly & The Family Stone, where noise and sonic space just lie about like they own the place, both are covered in dirt without any hysteria at all. The mix alone on either record is enough cut all chance of the listeners return to decency and a life of wallowing in music, taking it for granted. Both records grate in their own way, grate against the possibility of a transparent listening experience, one sounds like you've woken up in a grave, the other in some Stan Brakhage Ajax-scarred zoetrope of the storm from Return to Oz and a motown Silver Apples. Also both appear at the dawn of the 70s, right in the spray of Altamont which was arguably a moment when corporeal grit proved it simply had the mass to destroy any ideology, or tea party, or sales pitch or whatever. 

12 [There's an excellent earlier post on here somewhere that discussed the importance of steroids and the self image of muscular 1980s, someone help me out I can't find it again.] The endless reservoir of will is the belief of decade though, and despite the chest beating quest for the fire-in-his-own-tortured-navel of Henry Rollins the thing that Black Flag get right about this Reaganite bootstraps Power of The Will mythology is the sheer exhaustion of it. The drive that the decade promotes, the peck flexing rugged individualist conservatism is actually the delirium of fatigue, it aint a march, it's a stagger.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Falling In Love Again (And Again, And Again…..)

“Esoteric science asserts the eternity of life. Its central concept is conveyed in the word REINCARNATION, which implies an enduring unit of existence ensouled in a succession of transient bodies. In order to render this concept clear it must be remarked that the INDIVIDUALITY and the PERSONALITY constitute two distinct aspects of man. The individuality is composed of the three highest bodies, the spark of pure spirit of the seventh plane, and the concreted spiritual nature of the sixth plane, and the abstract mind of the fifth plane; these, once they have evolved, are conceived of as enduring for an evolution and then being absorbed back into the Infinite as organised centres of radiation. The four lower bodies – the concrete mentality, the emotional nature, the passional nature, the physical body – are regarded as temporary accretions of the matter of their respective planes which the Individuality employs as a vehicle, and which, collectively, are said to compose the Personality.”

Dion Fortune, “The Esoteric Philosophy Of Love And Marriage”

We are accustomed nowadays to regard occultists as rather louche individuals – aging rakes in the manner of Robert Graves and Aleister Crowley, or countercultural deviants like Alex Sanders and Genesis P. Orridge - whereas in actuality these are rather fringe figures in a discipline that has a greater tendency toward conservatism than most. Such conservatism was embodied in the work of Dion Fortune, a woman who would have had little regard for such contemporary sexual mores as civil partnerships, hardcore pornography and abortion on demand. Born Violet Mary Firth Evans to a family of Christian Scientists, Fortune was the epitome of a certain lower-bourgeois British redoubtability – a kind of Barbara Woodhouse or Fanny Cradock who just happened to battle energy-vampires on the Astral Plane.

Nevertheless, Fortune‘s no-nonsense, forthright tone makes her books some of the clearest and most useful treatises written on the Occult in the last century, and one of her best is The Esoteric Philosophy Of Love And Marriage. This lean, sparing volume was her attempt to explain the invisible, underlying principles that govern how people are attracted to one another, and how the bonds between them either strengthen or loosen over time. In her esoteric schema she reveals how people are almost literally made for one another, that we are all necessarily incomplete halves that are bound to search for, and in many cases find, their whole. That being said, Fortune was in no respects a romantic – she considered the vast unseen forces that bring us together and tear us apart as scientific certainties that are almost mechanically predictable and repeatable.

In the first instance, all of us are born through one of a number of monads, or “rays” that govern our tendency to form a natural affinity with each other. People born within the same monad all contain the same spiritual spark in the highest level, or plane, of their being. It is this shared spark that explains why it is common, for example, to feel a greater sense of belonging with a person from the other side of the planet than it is to people who are directly related to us. It is from this spark that the so-called “lower bodies” are formed: our mental, emotional, instinctive and physical selves, all of which are a reflection of the monad from which we are created, and all of which seek their completion in the love of the equivalent bodies of someone of the same ray. The depth of attraction we find in another person therefore ranges from whether they appeal to us purely on the physical plane to whether their appeal stretches right up to the highest levels of the spiritual plane.

All of this is surely enough to make our rationalist materialist brethren choke on their (Francis) bacon sandwiches, but Dion Fortune adds another variable with the element of the Karmic Tie. In essence, while what we consider to be our “personalities” (chiefly the mental-emotional aspects of ourselves that can be committed to memory) die with our physical selves, our higher spiritual selves (those aspects of ourselves that we only fleetingly glimpse in any one lifetime) are eternal, and all the emotional ties we form in any one life are accumulated together and carried on when we are reborn. These ties carry a karmic weight that draws us together in lifetime after lifetime, and, with each renewal of the relationship, the bonds between such lovers deepens, encompassing ever-higher spiritual levels.

Now, I’m not saying I believe all this, but, nevertheless, all attraction is not the same, and the Esoteric Philosophy does a better job of explaining the sheer strangeness of attraction, the uncanny sense of déjà vu, of being guided by forces stronger than one’s individual self, than any contemporary theories that simply explain sexual attraction in Darwinian terms. As for reincarnation, as we cannot know what happens when we die, and as this current existence is so weird, I’m not prepared to write off the possibility that something even weirder happens when it comes to an end.

But I digress, because what I meant to point out is that there was never a greater exponent of the Fortunian inevitability of finding The One than Chrissie Hynde. The Pretenders’ entire oeuvre is centred round patiently waiting for the karmic tie to manifest itself; a casual glance, an unexpected customer, a sudden sunburst of light that can happen during the most humdrum moments in life. Over the most patient and steady of rhythms, Hynde keeps one eye on the horizon, the other on the everyday business of life. Wistful maybe, but never despairing, because, she knows….

Once in a while
Two people meet
Seemingly for no reason
They just pass on the street
Suddenly thunder showers everywhere
Who can explain the thunder and the rain
But there’s something in the air

....and that's why her voice sounds like it has yearned not over years, but over centuries.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Dining Room in the Oil Rig

If there's a building which encapsulates in one structure what happened in Britain in the 1980s, and what afflicts it still, it's Lloyd's of London. Designed by Richard Rogers in 1979 and completed, just to coincide with the City's 'Big Bang' in 1986, it is usually interpreted in one of two completely inadequate ways. For architectural history, it's a monument to 'High-Tech', a style which arose in the mid-70s as a sort of last flicker from the white heat of the technological revolution, at the hands of currently ennobled, often American-trained architects - Baron Foster of Thames Bank, Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, Sir Michael Hopkins, Baron Rogers of Riverside. High-tech, or a version of it, has been the dominant form of architecture in the UK for the last two decades, though you can read a lot from the change in its functions - in the '70s most of the above were designing factories, now, with rare and telling exceptions, they design office blocks, cultural centres and luxury flats with a still residual 'industrial aesthetic'.

The other thing it is known as is a huge metallic embodiment of the Big Bang, a Thatcherite machine for underwriting in (it features on a Five Star sleeve, and a shop in the basement still sells Athena-style framed pictures of it in moody monochrome). Neither of these give any even slight indication of how monstrous, compelling and utterly fucked-up Lloyds is; the architectural critics can't talk about much more than the detailing, the anti-capitalists can't look beyond its (admittedly extremely unpleasant) function. In order to really capture it's weirdness you have to go inside. I've tried to get here for Open House weekend for most of the last decade, finally making it last month, with these people, the latter of whom took some of these photos.

One of the many things Lloyds is about is a strategy of tension between the two complimentary factions of the British ruling class. Before Rogers, the insurers were housed in a neoclassical building built as late as the '50s, contemporary with the Seagram Building - an embodiment of a practically unchanging British gentlemanly capitalism, resistant both to modernism and to swanky, brash American finance capitalism. On one level, Lloyds is Weinerisation to the nth degree. It houses one of the oldest institutions of the City of London, the insurance firm which can date itself to 1688 (neatly contemporary with the 'Glorious Revolution'), and it houses them in the most astonishing futurist structure ever erected in the UK. If it evokes any previously existing buildings of any kind, then they're almost always industrial - oil refineries, or the North Sea Oil Rigs which were built off the east coast of Scotland in the '70s, much beloved of high-tech architects. Both of these are visually striking typologies because of sheer utility, because their functional parts are in no way sheathed or hidden, and because the refining process requires the baffling, twisting intricacies of pipes and gantries. Like so many things with Lloyd's, you can just tick off the political-economic resonances - the oil boom that kept Thatcherism secure in its confrontations with the unions providing inadvertent inspiration for the aesthetic of the City itself at the exact point it was let off the leash.

Maybe this was some kind of unacknowledged appeasing of the gods of industry, paying tribute to it at the same time it was destroyed. It's also possible that Lloyds was and is especially thrilling for people who have never worked in a factory, the only other kind of place where services, pipes and ducts are habitually left so bare, in those places because 'nobody' is looking. Maybe. If there is a specific non-industrial built precedent, though, it's Rogers' earlier Pompidou Centre, the first of a very long and still unbroken line of non-specific cultural centres and tourist draws with wilfully spectacular architecture erected across Western cities. The 'Beaubourg' is often considered to be a '60s dream built, Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price's adaptable, anti-architectural 'Fun Palace' completed and then named after an anti-68 Gaullist. The 68ers immediately moved to disavow it, of course - the text So-Called Utopia of the Centre Beaubourg was the gauchistes' 'don't give me what I want because that's not it' response - but if it looks like a Fun Palace, quacks like a Fun Palace, etc. You can see where I'm going with this, right? An industrial aesthetic is used for FUN and then is used for CAPITAL. The finance-entertainment complex.

What makes visiting Lloyds such a bizarre experience, however, is seeing how the underwriters have conserved so many elements of their atavistic previous existence. These remnants are scattered around the new building, decontextualised fragments ripped from 1763, 1799, 1925 and 1958, rudely riveted onto the ducts and pipes. There's the antiquated uniforms worn by the service staff; the front facade of their 1920s offices is held up like a trophy on street level; inside, the Lutine Bell sits at the foot of 'The Room', more of which later; several paintings and bits of furnishings survive from previous buildings; and strangest of all, a complete 18th century dining room by Robert Adam was preserved and recreated. At first, it seems like these are tokens kept on a sort of reservation of gentlemanly capitalism in order to placate the old guard. After a while you realise that what is really happening here is more like a marriage, a reconciliation, a mockery of Wiener's idea that there should be any difference or hostility between the capitalism of gentlemen and the capitalism of industrialists. That comes about especially forcefully in The Room.

Agata mentions Koyaanisqatsi the first time she sees The Room, and that captures some of its sense of controlled, mechanised mania. It's an enormous, multi-storey concrete atrium dominated visually by two things, on an axis so that the link between the two is unavoidable. There is a web of criss-crossing escalators, which can take the client to the underwriter at speed. These align with the open-plan offices on every side, creating a sort of visual simulation of industrial activity. As you see all this it's hard to imagine that nothing is actually being produced here; the look of some putative industrial hub employed purely for the purposes of immaterial, literally speculative finance. The open floors and the dynamism of the escalators draw the eye straight away to the more sentimental of the assembled, decontextualised objects, the Lutine Bell itself. What you can see is a neoclassical rostrum housing the bell itself, made in the 1920s, mahogany and Corinthian columns, with an antiquated clock on top. The bell inside is rung when a member of the Royal Family dies, and on the rare occasions when a ship they have insured sinks, as was its original function. After that, look up, and you'll see a glass barrel-vaulted roof. You're in a gigantic '80s version of The Crystal Palace, the 1851 iron-and-glass fantasia that Martin Wiener considered British industrial capitalism's unsurpassed zenith. These two sentimental remnants are what they whole high-tech assemblage revolves around. Like the Gothicism of services on the facade, the Room is a quite ridiculously thrilling thing to behold; you have to catch your breath and remind yourself where you are. What this is.

With its glazed lifts, moving parts, girders, cranes, components all crammed into a tight, fierce, metallic mesh, Lloyds has always been a building that has (on me, at least) much the same shivers-down-spine effect as The Human League's 'Dancevision', or 'Strings of Life', or 'Trans-Europe Express': a mechanical sublime that sweeps away any residual humanist resistance with your willing participation. Fully aware of this, there's also a series of get-out-clauses left here by the architect. Rogers was and is a figure of the soft left; as a Labour Party peer, he'll have been one of those who were the NHS' unlikely last line of defence last week. The other stylistic influence here, one which Rogers draws attention to in his books, was the unbuilt projects of the early Soviet Union. The lifts shooting up and down the metal frame are taken from Leningradskaya Pravda; the overwhelming metal-on-metal rush of the street facade is taken from Iakov Chernikhov; the irregular, techno-Gothic approach to the skyscraper is from Ivan Leonidov. So add to the list of ironies the era when the USSR was considered to be capitalism's gravedigger being evoked on the eve of its suicide, for the purposes of the forces that would soon drag its territory into a ferocious gangster capitalism. Another get-out-clause is adaptability. The building is adorned at the top by fragments of the cranes used to construct it, as if to tell us that the thing is in flux; the floors, too, are moveable. The suggestion seems to be that one day it could all be made into something else by someone else. The building is about to be Grade 1 listed, so that's certainly not happening, pending another glorious revolution. Then there's the promise of an organic, reformed and reformist city, which made Rogers a 'New Labour consigliere', in which capacity he was probably the last major British architect to have any ideas about society whatsoever. From 1997 to 2010 the architect had a semi-governmental role advocating street life, compact cities, let's-be-like-Barcelona-or-Berlin-rather-than-fucking-Texas. But the Lloyds Building, no matter how astonishing it might be to look at as a passer-by, meets the street with a moat.

The real moment of madness in Lloyds is the Adam Room. While much of Lloyds evokes the more ruthless side of '80s cinema - a John Carpenter film, The Terminator, Robocop or Gremlins 2 could all be shot here - this place is pure Tarkovsky. It's the last scene of Solaris, where the alien intelligence re-creates the familial hearth. On the 11th floor, the high-tech corridors, with their Gigerish sculptural ceilings, suddenly meet a white concrete block. That concrete block is decorated with classical details. Lloyds is not generally thought to be postmodernism in the usual sense of irony and historical montage - in fact it's often presented instead as 'late modernism', a strident keeping-of-the-faith; Rogers' continuing role as antagonist to the Prince of Wales helps that presentation. Yet here's an absolutely pitch-perfect bit of pomo, a seemingly mocking, parodic reproduction of an Alexander Popish 18th century thrown into a completely alien context.

Walk into it, and you're as far into the heart of the establishment as a commoner is ever likely to get (one weekend, every September). The Adam Room, named after its designer, was originally part of Bowood House in Wiltshire, was commissioned by the first Earl of Sherborne, and is rammed so full of objets d'art that ten increasingly head-bangingly boring series of Antiques Roadshow could be built around Michael Aspel inspecting it piece-by-piece. The sensation it creates is of reaching the inner sanctum of the great parasite itself; all that outside is just for show, a display of how sprightly and modern and with-it we are, a delicate subterfuge, an elaborate joke about deindustrialisation where we can look at paintings of galleons while the shipyards are closed. In here, Lloyd's of London are the same organisation that built itself on the slave trade; it's a time-machine that physically brings Old Corruption back to the site of its inception. They play at modernisation, but always keep this place in reserve, are always able to return to it. We queue to get in outside the Palladian bunker, and then circle round the table for our allotted time.

Does She Know It?

Is there any way in which the Stone Roses reunion can be possibly be a good thing? Almost certainly not. And yet ...

We wanted to announce it the day after the riots.

The first thing we played was "Shoot You Down".

Listen hard:

You know it
You show it
And the time has come 
To shoot you down
What a sound 
When the day is done it'll all work out
I'd love to do it and you know you've always had it coming

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Secret Life Of Arabia

Gothic architecture history can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire and the height of the Arab reign over the East. Christopher Wren (1632 - 1723), a multidisciplinary scholar and renowned architect, discussed these early origins and addressed the Muslim influence on its beautiful and intricate designs. Imprints of these Muslim designs later came to influence European and Western architectural ideas.

The origins of many structures can be found in mosques and palaces built during the Ottoman empire. Arabs of that time translated past Greek architectural influence into their own distinct style, a style that remains the origin of Gothic designs found in Europe, Africa and other countries. France was one of the first European countries to utilize the unique design, and it is said to be the place of origin for European medieval design. Stemming from France, the style developed and grew in new directions with the building of cathedrals and other Christian structures.

The origin of Gothic architectural design in the Arabian world began with a desire to create buildings and mosques that were different from churches and other western-inspired structures. Their ideas and inspirations produced excessive boldness, distinct sections of inordinate detail, and into designs with extreme delicacy and fancy patterns. Moreover, much like the beauty and passion the Arabs put into their poetry and literature, their architectural designs originated from a delicate taste of superfluous ornaments, extravagant detail and a desire to communicate to their audience a love for art and detail.

Meticulous detail and a dedicated attention to what would normally be missed at a quick glance was also, and still is, a trademark of the Gothic design that originated from the Arab world. Interestingly, today there is a heavy emphasis put on cathedrals and churches when referring to this specific design type. However; the distinctive detail and intricate nature is explicit and dominant in many of the mosques and palaces that were created during the Ottoman empire, and also during the reign of the Muslim empire in the east.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Bridge Is Over

According to one's prejudices, current occupations in New York could be the inspiring harbinger of further insurrections, or little more than the last gasp of hipster indulgence; before further lockdowns are consolidated. Although some have pointed to the lack of a coherent agenda, a common consensus is now becoming apparent; with specific demands. One things for certain: It's not just those traditionally designated as 'the poor' being hit hard - and enraged - by the abuses and crimes perpetrated by Wall St. The current crisis - or perhaps the global swindle presenting itself as a crisis - is reaching a much wider range of victims than any other recession in living memory. The net is being cast ever wider, and it may not be so much a case of a 'squeezed' middle as an endangered middle. In western nations at least, more and more of the middle class are being proletarianised. Their presence as a stabilising force in society is diminishing rapidly, as the social ladder is kicked away from beneath their feet. Last year, student protests in the UK taught a similar lesson: privileges that many once took for granted are far from guaranteed. They may not be feeling the force of impoverishment, enclosure and crackdown as severely as the 'underclass' has; but the middle classes can easily be brutalised and criminalized if it suits the interests of the powers-that-be. Many a respectable, affluent parent is learning the hard way that police are willing to treat their children in a similar manner to the way they have kids from the 'wrong side of the tracks'. It remains to be seen how this rupture in the social contract plays out.

Watching footage of the above protests, it was (at least initially) striking how very white and middle class the protesters appeared; especially since they take place in one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities. One huge reason for this may be gentrification. A particularly notorious example of this is Brooklyn, site of the bridge face-off. Mayor Gulliani's 'clean-up' of New York was marketed as a brave new world of opportunity, order and cohesion, but for a silent (or rather, marginalised and ignored) majority it was a social nightmare. 'Zero tolerance' didn't just mean cleaner pavements and renovated crack houses. It was also a gloves-off clampdown, enacted by a militarised police force in the name of property and plunder. The cultural vibrancy that attracts the wealthy to once-affordable urban areas became a casualty of asymmetrical class/race warfare as much as civil liberties and public services. Many a major city in western Europe has experienced a similar process, with discord being sown long before the credit crunch. The issues raised by recent riots in London made this discord unavoidable. Despite the speeches of politicians, it will become harder to explain away social unrest with the usual cheap rhetoric of law'n'order and moral decline. Even for those supporting their solutions, at least some antagonisms at the heart of this unrest are apparent.

Until the 90s, Brooklyn was experiencing something of a renaissance, with many of the nation's leading black and hispanic intellectuals, film-makers, artists, musicians and novelists emerging from there. In 1991, Brooklyn's Bed Stuy was billed by Essence magazine as "the happenin' hood". This is no longer the case, as the affordability attracting creative people to an area can be easily transformed into cynical property opportunism, and what amounts to ethnic cleansing in all but name. Corporations and peddlers of luxuries  inevitably followed the money; bringing in plastic surgeons, expensive accountants, estate agents, exclusive restaurants and the familiar shop-front brands that have turned so many cities into shadows of their once-exciting selves. Homogeneity is rarely a fertile ground for innovation. The hated figure of the hipster - a paradoxically monocultural subculture, that convenient whipping post of cultural decline - may now be finding that life isn't all about the LULZ, and their days as apathetic servants of accumulation are numbered. Brooklyn's hipster set may not be inheriting the Earth after all. I expect the generation following them will be less defined (or stereotyped) by privilege, smugness and resignation, and rather more by anger and desperation. With neoliberalism's collapse, the social conflicts it (vainly) tried to brush under the carpet are returning with a vengeance.

So, this being an 80s blog, we'll return to the earlier days of the neoliberal 'experiment', to a time when Brooklyn was a site of cultural vibrancy; the kind of innovation that can emerge from social tension, community identity, and alienation from the mainstream. To a time when popular culture had a bit more moxie, and Reagan's victims found ways to express themselves on a popular platform; for all kinds of purposes. Like early rock'n'roll, country or soul, hiphop made its mark with the 'answer record': where a performer takes umbrage to the statements of another performer; then upping the ante in anticipation of another answer in return. It's a handy way to establish an emerging genre, as it creates a sense of immediacy and anticipation. Their public rows keep the music in the present tense, with listeners positioned as witnesses to a lively argument. It's an extension of the live sporting challenges that are still a key aspect of the genre. As with sport, it has its fair share of regional loyalty.

Of course, as in real life, if dragged on too long it can become tedious and overstated; if not downright unpleasant and violent, but at least in the initial stages it can be fun and entertaining. The below records represent a far less brutal kind of hiphop rivalry than the far more publicised/mythologised ones of the 90s. They were part of 'The Bridge Wars', a feud where two regions laid claim to the creation of hiphop itself. There was some class tension to this, as the Bronx experienced harsher social devastation than Brooklyn since the 'drop dead' 70s. This is reflected in the lyrics, where Brooklyn rappers are dissed as somewhat effete and pampered, in comparison with the more authentically 'hardcore' Bronx. On that count, the Bronx won the feud. However in light of the decades that followed, within the context of future struggles, these tracks gain an unexpectedly mournful tone. Their regional differences melt into air when we take the bigger picture into account. The gentrification that followed - and the Wall St. protests - are but different theatres of attack, enclosure and resistance. There's always the wider war, ready to incorporate and exploit our everyday battles.